Sun-Times, WBEZ parent company to explore historic partnership to create country’s largest local nonprofit news service

A final deal would make the Sun-Times a subsidiary of Chicago Public Media.

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Stacks of The Chicago Sun-Times newspaper are seen in this photo, Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 29, 2021.

The Chicago Sun-Times and the parent company of public radio station WBEZ are discussing the possibility of becoming a “combined entity.”

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

The Chicago Sun-Times and the parent company of public radio station WBEZ will explore a potentially historic partnership under a non-binding letter of intent that could create one of the largest local nonprofit news organizations in the country.

The two legacy Chicago media outlets announced the signing of the letter Wednesday night, following a closed meeting of the board of Chicago Public Media, WBEZ’s parent company. A final deal would make the Sun-Times a subsidiary of Chicago Public Media.

Still, that final deal has yet to be reached, according to a news release from the two companies. The goal is to complete the merger by the end of 2021, Chicago Public Media CEO Matt Moog said in a combined interview with Sun-Times CEO Nykia Wright.

Moog also said he would expect the two newsrooms to operate independently “out of the gate.” But he said, “a lot of the organizational things, frankly, depend on the input of the staff.” He stressed there are “no plans for job reduction at all.”

Wright said the potential deal is the result of a years-long effort to put the Sun-Times on more sound financial footing.

Both CEOs said the partnership could help each newsroom engage with a wider audience and expand on its work. Wright described it as a “collaboration” rather than a “transaction.”

Moog also pointed to Chicago Public Media’s established base of supporters. The joint news release said early support for the plan has come from Sun-Times investor Michael Sacks, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Pritzker Traubert Foundation.

The news release said the combined organization “would invest in journalism through expanded capacity to better serve Chicago; expand and engage with diverse audiences throughout the region, and expand digital capabilities to deliver a compelling digital experience across platforms and reach audiences where they are.”

It also said WBEZ and the Sun-Times would share content from both newsrooms across multiple platforms, including broadcast, print, websites, podcasts, newsletters, mobile apps, social media and live events.

“Once together, the Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ would reach millions of Chicago-area residents, connecting them to each other and to the news that impacts their communities,” it said.

Media columnist Robert Feder first broke the news of the potential partnership Wednesday morning.

The newspaper has been publishing under the Sun-Times banner for roughly 74 years. It has been owned since the summer of 2017 by a group of labor unions brought together by businessman and former Ald. Edwin Eisendrath (43rd) to block a bid by the Chicago Tribune’s parent company to take over its competitor. 

Eisendrath resigned as Sun-Times Media’s CEO in 2018.

Sacks and Chicago Blackhawks Chairman Rocky Wirtz became investors in 2019.

WBEZ’s history dates back to 1943, when it was established as an extension service of the Chicago Board of Education, according to its website. It became one of the first charter member stations of National Public Radio in 1970, and it adopted the name Chicago Public Media in 2010.

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